Just Look...

Just Look...

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: Hold

1. grasp, carry, or support with one's arms or hands.
1. an act or manner of grasping something; a grip.
2. a fortress

My 2017 word, chosen in retrospect in this final day of 2017, is "hold". It was a year of holding to faith, to God, to my people, to the plow, to a Promise, to community. It was a year of building a fortress around our nuclear family and holding to each other and to home. It was a year of learning what to hold with tightly clasped hands and what to hold open-palmed, and learning to live more open-palmed. I am thankful for this year and the many blessings it has brought to us. I'm thankful for a year to hold fast to a Savior and His Will, for Him to prove his faithfulness. 

This year can be divided exactly and neatly into two halves in nearly every way. The first half was spent in a strange limbo as every aspect of our lives felt like we were stretched between two dimensions, trying to cherish and love the four who were here, knowing this time would never be again, and simultaneously feeling like we were missing our other halves. The wait was frustrating and faithbuilding and anxiety-inducing. At the same time, I had such an incredible last semester of the school year and felt so treasured by my classes and my people. We spent the first half of 2017 astounded at the glory of the Lord and His provision, as people poured out their support for our adoption. The first half was spent on uneasy ground after an election that drew sharp lines through communities and friendships and families. The first half was a frantic whirlwind of activity as we rearranged our entire house, fundraised like crazy people, and continued our regular activities and schedules. We had some parenting trials and some parenting fails in the spring of 2017, sparking some doubt in my mind that we were equipped for adding 3 more kids to parent. Because see, that's what the devil does when you are following God's call. He throws anything he can in your path to trip you up and bring doubt. 

The trip to the Philippines in June (straight from Royal Family, which will always amaze me with its appropriateness of timing) was the line between the two halves of the year for us. Our entire lives, our family, our world, changed in that week, changes all for the better. It was there and then that we found our completion to our family unit.

The second half of 2017 was vastly different than the first. Instead of the whirlwind of activity, we entered a season (at least of a few months) of almost unsettling calm. Our summer days were long and our nights even longer. No longer engaged in our own individual pursuits, our family was spending all of our time together in one room, playing games or watching movies, or outside for long summer nights playing volleyball or basketball or running around, sitting around the patio talking. We were feeling our way with each other, trying to figure out who we all were now that we were "we". We were falling in love not only with our new kids, but with the new selves we became with them. I will forever remember the summer of 2017 as the sweetest and scariest season of my life, spent relearning everything I thought I knew about everything, waiting on attachments to form rather than forcing them, and realizing for 100% certainty that Emma and Kelsey have grown into everything I ever hoped they would be. 

Then the school year started and with it the realization that dropping off and sending forth newly adopted teenagers to their first day of American public school is every bit as terrifying as leaving your kindergartner on his or her first day. We developed our new routines and rhythms with school and jobs and sports and church and activities. Everyone thrived, and most days it felt like I did too. The biggest adjustment for me this year came from having two kids at my school with me. I had always looked forward to that moment and in many ways it was as wonderful as I expected, but it has brought some challenges as well when your colleagues play different roles in the lives of your kids and you have to balance mom and coworker. My classes this semester have been awesome, although I have worried at times that I haven't connected with them like I normally do, and in those moments I wonder if I've reached the end of my reservoir of connection, if I'm pouring it all out at home and there just isn't enough left for school. 

In fact, connection.... true, genuine, authentic connection.... is something I have missed in my life this year. Partly due to lack of time and energy, maybe partly due to other reasons, we haven't had social experiences like we did in the past. We don't do couples dates, we never have people over, I don't go to girls nights, we never get asked to anyone else's house, no cousins clubs happened this year. I have missed those things somewhat, or maybe I just miss the IDEA of them. I have felt this entire year that there was a wall between me and much of my family and many of my friends and members of my various communities. And I don't know for certain what it was, though I do have my suspicions, but I hope to scale those walls in the coming year.

I turned 40 this year. It wasn't anything like I hoped and yet somehow it was even better. I had planned to have a big party (and I still plan to in the summer) and it just didn't feel worth it, so I didn't do it. It fell on Thanksgiving, which is the absolute worst case scenario in a first world, perfectly healthy sort of way. However, my sweet husband and beautiful friends arranged for one of the most special nights I can remember and it was absolute perfection. My mom and my family did an awesome party at her house before we left for West Virginia. My gifts this year top any occasion I can remember. It was the least painful and most fun 40th I ever didn't know I wanted.

This fall semester has been proof that God knew exactly what He was doing when He put my family together, from those long nights of AOL Instant Messaging with Kraig in 1998 to that beautiful baby with exquisite lips and a perfect hairline in 2003 to that adorable and gigantic fuzzy-headed baby with the gorgeous eyes that saw straight through to your soul in 2005 to the breathtaking black-haired trio with the shy smiles and sparkling eyes in August of 2016. We are blessed, we are loved, and we are each other's.

And now I'm ready to wake tomorrow in a new year, a year that will only know us as 7, a year of creating new memories and hope. A year to settle in and love deep and reach out. A year of hopefully calm waters and deeper faith. A year to build something that will last.

Family Meeting and Bullet Journal

I'm ashamed to say that sticking to things is hard for me. In fact, a few years ago I got home from a mom conference and sat down with Emma and Kelsey and sheets of paper to make some plans and procedures. Emma wrote this heading on hers: "Things Mom Says We Will Do But We Won't Actually". She was joking, but I knew it wasn't a joke. I think we are all like that, to some degree. And I would rather live life as a human than a robot, stuck in a procedural manual. However, I started 2017 knowing that we had to establish some systems in order to survive and that starting them as a family of 4 before we became 7 would be beneficial. And thus was born my (very loosely fitting the definition of) Bullet Journal Notebook and Sunday Night Family Meetings. And I'm here to tell you that every single week of my notebook is filled and we had a family meeting EVERY SINGLE WEEK (although two times we held them on Monday instead of Sunday and once even on TUESDAY). 

If you're looking for some structure in your family, I highly recommend whatever variation of this works for you. In my notebook, I have a page for each week and headings of itinerary (self explanatory), meal plan (also self explanatory, although I will say that Kraig and I rotate weeks of cooking (and the kids rotate weeks of taking one meal a week with hopes of expanding that) and it has saved our relationship this year), to do (this is my own to do list), notes (love this-- I just put special details of things we want to remember from each week), prayer (some are longstanding, others change weekly) and praise (it's been so faithbuilding to see prayers answered before our very eyes). On the page opposite, I update our family chore rotation (this has evolved some-- we had two kids on dishes each week but inevitably only one kid did all the work so we went to just one), van seat rotation (this is another sanity-saver), and devotional lead rotation (every week someone different leads our family meeting devotional). 

Our family meetings take the following format: We start with the person in charge of the devotional doing that with us. Then I take prayer requests, go over praise reports, and the devotional leader leads us in prayer. After that, I go over the weekly itinerary and meal plan (each kid has his or her own planner that they update if they want to-- some want to know every detail and others just go with the flow), chore rotation, seat assignments, and devotional lead for the next week. We finish by having time for people to mention things they want to discuss. Sometimes Kraig and I have specific things we want to say to everyone or remind them of (see Cuss Word Chalkboard Spectacle circa September 2017), sometimes we don't. I have also used the meetings for things like motivational talks and the love languages discussion a few weeks ago. 

Again, it may not work for everyone and it probably won't look the same for everyone, but it has been great for us and it's honestly one of my proudest accomplishments of 2017. That and the fact that my better sleep patterns and water intake of fall 2016 have carried through 2017. And oh yeah, other valuable things too. 😂 

Friday, December 22, 2017

From Advent to Fulfillment

It's December 22. One is out running, one is at a birthday sleepover, and the other three are alternately yelling at Mario and Luigi and at each other. And I'm sitting upstairs, waiting on my Silhouette to cut shirt designs, marveling at the changes in our world since last December. One year ago, we were right in the middle of a hard limbo. We were right in the middle of fundraising, of waiting, of rearranging our house, and of hoping. Our kids didn't know yet that we existed and we still had two hard tests to face. At this point, we were not yet officially "matched" and, while it's unlikely to be pre-approved and then not matched, it's possible. So we were in the middle of moving around an entire house, not even certain that people would be coming to fill it. We also knew that we were facing a hard deadline of March 12 for completed government approval paperwork, and as each second ticked by in waiting for the match, it delayed everything that came after. We knew that if the March 12 deadline wasn't met, Francisco would age out which would make things impossible. So last December found us very much living in our own advent season.
ad·vent  (ăd′vĕnt′)
1. The coming or arrival of something or someone that is important or worthy of note
One year later, having already experienced "the coming or arrival of something or someone that is important or worthy of note", we are leaving in a season of fulfillment. The fulfillment of a long-awaited Promise, the fulfillment of family, the fulfillment of a hope and a future, the fulfillment of lives that were preserved for a reason, the fulfillment of the fruit of years of God working in the hearts of Emma and Kelsey to prepare them for this time.

I cannot even put into words how utterly amazed I am DAILY at the ways the Lord has blessed all seven of us through this process. Our three new kids are incredible. They are kind, courteous, fun, witty, smart, helpful, and loving. They tackled the world of American public school this semester and absolutely ASTOUNDED me with their drive and work ethic and concern and success. Francisco's final grades aren't in yet but it looks like 2 A's and 2 B's. His first experience EVER in our educational system and he blows the top out of it. Every teacher and every student who has interacted with them has only had great things to say. They are so pleasant at home and with all of us and each other.

I honestly hope this does not come across as bragging because believe me when I say that I have had my struggles in other ways, but every single day this Christmas season when I have looked at my Facebook memories, I have been dazzled at the ways God has created time and space for me. Every.single.year. I am stressed out by the amount of things I have to do, I'm behind, I'm low on energy and time. I am normally buying Christmas gifts now, one year I STARTED buying on the 20th, I often am writing my students' Christmas cards WHILE THEY TAKE THEIR EXAM, and I seldom have teacher gifts done until the wee hours of the morning the night before the last day. This year...... it's just unbelievable and I don't know how it's possible. I have had so much MORE to do, so many MORE people to care for, and I have somehow been more ahead of the game than EVER. My grading has stayed caught up all year. My end of semester work of cards and research papers and final grades was done weeks ahead. I left school 30 minutes after the kids did, as opposed to my YEARLY having to stay until 5 or 6:00. My gifts have not only been bought, but WRAPPED, for weeks. We sent teacher gifts to school in shifts and were done early. My business orders are the only thing that are down to the wire, but that's only because I decided in order to PAY for this Christmas, maybe I should take some last minute orders and do some advertising, haha! There is no feasible explanation for any of this except a God-miracle. He knew that my heart was pretty wrapped up in emotional stuff right now and it didn't need the stressors of time management and procrastination, so He somehow created extra space and time for me. And I ADORE Him for it.

A few people (who apparently know how stressful an adoption can be) have asked me, often in a whisper, "So how are you and Kraig?" The answer is that we are wonderful. Is it always perfect? No, but I think waiting all of these years until we were both in the same place was such incredible provision by God. I also think the massive amount of preparation and training that you do in an international adoption made a difference for us. Our time with Royal Family over all of these years put us in a place where we understand what issues we might face. And we have always been incredibly in sync in regard to our parenting styles, a fact that I attribute to the similarities with which we were raised. There have been some things since school started that we have had to deal with, things with "new" and "old" kids, and we have been on the same page in handling those issues.

I will say, all of the previously mentioned things considered, though, that the most incredible and beautifully amazing gift of God through this family change has been His work in the sibling relationships. 5 teenagers. 2 bedrooms. 1 house. 2 schools. A ton of social groups. 2 parents. A million activities. Incredibly different personalities. AND YET. Unfathomable love. Unbelievable connection. Unexplainable harmony. And that is all, 110%, due to ONE GOD. I honestly believe that the sibling relationships are what have shaped the beautiful success of our new family. If there is harmony among the kids in the home, it's so much easier to create and find harmony in every other situation and dynamic. I am so thankful to God for that. And so indebted to these five beautiful children for all of it.

So here we sit, fresh in the bloom of fulfillment. I know that challenges likely loom ahead, but the same God who shaped and formed these first six months together will walk us through those.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Prayer Whispers and Snow Flakes

Last night, at close to 1 AM, I posted the status below on Facebook. Yesterday afternoon and evening were hard ones and part of what makes things harder is the balance between seeking prayers, love, and advice from friends and still allowing my people to maintain their privacy and dignity. I don't share much in regard to the challenges of parenting now that my kids are old enough to have their own pride and dignity. Last night though, I was in a dark place. And I needed to feel the prayers and support of my community. So I posted the somewhat vague status below.

This afternoon and tonight weren't the easiest we've ever had.... Parenting of teens, especially in complex situations, isn't for the faint of heart. When one says, "I'm doing my presentation alone because no one wanted to be my partner" and you know that not only did it sting, she's also scared to be alone in front of the class and while most kids would think to just ask the teacher if, since the number was odd, she could make a group of three, she would not think of that.... it hurts a mama's heart. When you butt heads with one over and over and over and it finally comes out in a fit of rage and words and weeping and explanations and justifications and at last, hugs and tears and promises.... it tires a mama's heart. When you are in the car for 2 hours straight, rushing from one activity to the next, ending the night with a final one, then handling everyone's different issues.... it wears down a mama's heart. This mama's heart is feeling fragile tonight. I would not regret your prayers for my heart, my children's (all five) hearts, our family connections, and some Sabbath rest and restoration. Nothing huge, just a lot of big feelings in some medium-sized people. Being a teenager is hard enough. Being a teenager with extra challenges and dynamics and complications is terribly unfair. And I need to be able to mom them without being so emotionally bogged down in all of it.

But in that vagueness, I was very specific about my prayer requests and one was for family connections and Sabbath rest and restoration.

I live in East Tennessee. It snows here in December...... uh, pretty close to NEVER. I had heard rumblings early in the week and last weekend about snow, so I checked the forecast before bed last night. Nada. Nothing. Not a chance. Not a flake. I got up this morning, resolved to have a good day and start fresh from yesterday, then checked the forecast: Snow. Every hour starting at 10 AM. 80% chance. 1-3 inches accumulation. I felt in my gut that it was going to be true.

I went to school and around 10:15, it started to snow. I got Francisco out of class and took him outside to see snow for the first time, a moment I don't think he nor I will ever forget. He reacted in exactly the way I had hoped he would and I was able to capture it on video.
Francisco's Video
As the morning wore on, the snow continued. First just little flurries, then big ones, then a full on dumping of snow. And the grass started to cradle it and the trees started to don their winter formals. The childlike joy and excitement that only snow can bring started to spread from students to adults alike. And then came the call that everyone anxiously awaits, word that school was letting out early for the day. And that's when I realized what God had given to me.... an opportunity, an almost UNPRECEDENTED opportunity, for family connections and Sabbath rest and restoration.

So here I sit tonight, snuggled on one couch under blankets with two of my girls while Kraig and the boys fill the other and Kelsey sits across from us, wrapped in a blanket with her feet entwined with ours on the ottoman. So far today and tonight, there have been hot chocolate stops on the way home, snowball fights, naps on the couch, reading, wii playing, a delicious family dinner (that none of us had to cook-- thanks, Whitney!), and lots of tv watching while the lights of the Christmas tree bathe us in wonder.

Last night wasn't awful. But it was emotional and tiresome and draining. And with just a whisper to my Father and some prayers from the Saints, He sent the most peaceful and unexpected gift of snow to provide us with our Sabbath rest tonight.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Big Leap

Everyone is nestled all snug in their beds. The house is quiet, other than the television show Kraig is watching upstairs. And I'm sitting here, just thinking and worrying and praying.

I remember the night before Emma's first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday. I was a nervous wreck and I couldn't quit crying. I also couldn't let go of this feeling that everything mattered SO MUCH, that I had somehow not taken enough advantage of the years that brought us to that point and that the next day would shape the entire remainder of her educational career, both social and academic. My favorite story about Emma is one I think I have shared here before. We were on the way to her first day of kindergarten, and as we drove, I was talking to her (in child terminology) about the upcoming day, year, years. I told her how she represented us and Jesus, how she had a lot of education ahead of her so she might as well enjoy it, how the patterns she established there would last forever. and so on and so on. She was listening intently. After 8-10 minutes of my speech, I came to the end and paused, expecting some sort of 5 year old's affirmation of my words of wisdom. Instead, this is what piped from the backseat as she gazed out the window: "Mommy, it's so foggy out there, I can hardly see those cows." Well. OK. Good talk. ;)

I gave a similar talk tonight, but this time it wasn't to an adorable 5 year old safely strapped into the carseat in the back seat of my car. This time it was to 3 teenagers headed alone into an unfamiliar educational system in a new country with a strange tongue and different culture. It was to that 5-year-old-somehow-turned-freshman-in-high-school headed into the last four years under my roof, years that I know will go by so quickly I won't even have time to think twice. It was to a 7th grader whose entire world has changed in the past 6 weeks and who has proven that she has compassion, gentleness, long-suffering, and "momming" inside her in quantities I never would have imagined possible in a child of 12.

And this time, I don't think my talk fell on deaf ears. Faces were serious and I suspect hearts were pounding. And if no one else's was, mine was. Mine is. Because we are now truly into the years where lives are shaped and revealed. Everything DOES matter so much. And the time left is so, so short. I am not a person who believes that teen years are something to dread. I loved mine and I have loved the teen years of my kids so far and expect to love the rest of them. But I do know how high the stakes are. I have seen so many kids lose sight of who and Whose they are over the years. And I have seen so many kids marginalized. And nothing breaks my heart any more.

I told my 5 tonight, especially my new 3, there will be kids who WANT to help you and be your friend. And there will be other kids who want to hurt you and be mean to you. The most important thing of all is that YOU aren't the one who is mean. Second to that, find friends who make you a better person and skirt those who seem bent on making life hard for others. But please, whatever you do, find SOMEONE. Find SOMETHING to be part of.

I have spent two nights dreaming off and on of my new 3 sitting alone in the cafeteria, of my daughter not talking to a soul from 7:50-2:50 every single day, and it kills me inside. I want so much for people to see the Angela we all know and love, the funny girl with the quirky personality. I want people to hear Roman's wit and revel in his beautiful smile. I need people to understand Francisco's enthusiasm and joy. And more than anything, I think I am terrified that all the bonding and attaching and growing we have all done over the past 6 weeks might be undone by time at school. That is my biggest fear. I'm scared that Emma and Kelsey will get wrapped up in their friends and outside lives and forget the ways we all became a family of seven this summer. I'm scared that Francisco will become cynical, that we will lose Roman, and that Angela will turn inward.

It's funny, I have always been so nervous about the first day of school for myself. This year, I have hardly given it a thought because all of my emotion and nerves are wrapped up in other people. I hope and pray that this is a post I look back on and chuckle. "How silly of me to have been so worried!" "God brought them this far, why would I have ever thought He would leave them here?" "It's so crazy to read this post and then realize how EASY this school year was for everyone!"

But whatever the outcome, I know that we have One who will be walking this path beside us. And I know that a whole army of prayer warriors are lifting all 7 of us up in the coming days and weeks. And I know that a community of people, from middle school age kids to adults, have offered support and love and assistance to us. I have to believe that there are more people in this world who want to improve the lives of others than there are who want to make them difficult. And I also have to believe that God has sent and is sending those people into our paths right this very moment.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Mountain Thinkin'

I've always loved the idea of mountains. I have loved looking up at them, looking over at them, and looking off of them. I've always been confused, however, by "mountain thinking". Sometimes people talk about mountains as the obstacles and the valleys as the peaceful places. Other times, the valley is the hard part and the mountain tops are the peaks of joy. So I've never been really clear on whether or not mountains as symbols are supposed to be challenges or successes.

This past year, I have realized mountains are both. At the same time, quite frequently.

Since August 11, 2016, we have been climbing a mountain. We have had mountains in our way that God has had to move. And we have enjoyed the beauty of the summit. 

The adoption journey itself is every bit like climbing a mountain. There are mounds of paperwork (mountains in themselves), there are obstacles in the way, it takes persistence and faith and perseverance. Some days are stormy and you just have to batten down the hatches of the tent and wait it out. Some are exhilarating, when you get glimpses of the view that is to come. And the entire process is one foot in front of the other, holding to the Lord's hand. 

Due to our need to expedite, we had mountain after mountain that God had to just move for us. The financial mountain was a huge one. And He did. The approval mountain was another. And He did. The timing mountain and the fact that we needed one document approved by March 12 (and got it with FIVE DAYS TO SPARE) was another. And He did. 

As for the mountain as high point metaphor, we have also now experienced that. We met our kids on June 10 and it was the most incredible and surreal experience of my life. (more on that later) Every day since, as we have grown closer and gotten to know each other more and bonded, has been more of a summit experience. 

During our Skype calls before we went, we asked the kids if there was anything they wanted to do while we were in country that was within the right distance for us to do (we ALL wanted to go to Palawan, but it wasn't close enough). They immediately said Taal Volcano. I had seen pictures on Pinterest and I was ALL IN. I couldn't think of anything more appropriate than the 7 of us climbing a volcano together as our first real family outing. And the internet assured me that it was a "moderate, dusty trek" and that the climb was "relatively easy". {I think the internet may have been written by people in better shape than me.} My mother-in-law considered staying back, saying she wasn't sure she could do the climb, and I promised her it was apparently not a big deal at all and she would be fine. (Remember this part.) 

We set out for the volcano excursion clad (thankfully) in tennis shoes and armed with full bottles of cold water from SP, accompanied by a sweet SP staff member, Bo. The ride to the volcano was long and curvy, which meant I was feeling pretty car sick by the time we got there. I knew once I got out and started walking, I would be fine. (Remember this part too.) We boarded the coolest boats to take across the lake to the island where the volcano is located. I was so excited for the journey, taking pictures of the beautiful scenery and my beautiful children. They didn't know it then, but I had a surprise in my backpack... a leather cuff for each family member with "Davis 7", our family verse, and each person's individual verse on them. I had visions of the beautiful moment at the summit when I would bestow each bracelet onto each person and talk to them about our new family, maybe even have a little prayer together. I was so excited about the beautiful photos we would take together at the top. (Remember this part too.)

When we got to the shore and started the walk (and it was truly just a walk at that point), I was relieved that the internet was correct about the difficulty level of the journey. Then the dust turned to ash. Then the level ground went steep. Then my PEOPLE, who were supposed to LOVE me, basically started to RUN. I started to breathe harder and harder, get slower and slower. Eventually they were having to stop and wait on me, my mother-in-law, and Emma (who stayed with us out of pure kindness, not because she was out of shape). I kept sipping water, thinking surely I just needed to walk a bit and I would be fine. 

{My pride is requiring that I include the following information. 
1. We had been at Royal Family Kids Camp the week before. I do not eat much at all at Royal Family Kids Camp. 
2. I had eaten only a burger in the 36 hours of travel. 
3. I had not eaten much in the two days we had been at SP. 
4. I had SEVERELY neglected hydration, both at Royal Family, in travel, and in the Philippines. 
5. I DO have a diagnosed heart condition. ;) (The winky is just because I don't know that it factored in, not because it isn't real. It is. ) 
6. My emotional state was a little wonky, as anyone's would be at that point.
7. I AM terribly out of shape. However, I can and have done hard physical things. This was ... different. I don't know what happened to me.
8. Rather than start at a leisurely pace, we started FLYING, which exhausted me from the get-go.}

Eventually, a little over halfway up (they have Stations of the Cross all the way up which, I'm not going to lie, felt very fitting), it became clear that I could either stop and wait for them to return or I could orphan these children a second time. I was shaky, dizzy, and my pulse had only gotten up to 51, which couldn't be good. I told them to go ahead and I would see them after. I tried to get our guide from SP to go on with them but he refused, saying he would stay with me and my mother-in-law. Emma also refused to go on, staying with us. We sat on the edge of the trail and rested (in the shade) while I engaged in a serious pep talk with myself, not to keep going, but to let go of my expectations and not be disappointed that it didn't play out the way I had envisioned. 

After sitting for a little while, we decided to try again. I made it a very short distance before I knew it was stupid to keep going. We sat down again. I kept urging Emma to catch them but she refused. My mother-in-law and I both hated for Emma to miss it, so she finally said she would try to go further with Emma so that Emma could see it. I gave them my blessing and sent them forth, finally having come to terms with my expectations being unmet. And that's where Bo becomes a major player in my story. 

25 years old from Palawan, Bo has been with SP for a few years. He was a baker before he felt God calling him to do something meaningful for other people and went to work at SP. We sat and chatted. He was so kind to me, had already pulled a rock over for me to sit on every time we stopped. At some point, Bo told me he thought there was a better place to sit a little further up if I felt like I could go a little further. I agreed, and we walked a while longer until we reached the better place to sit. Eventually the sun shifted and Bo told me that there was a nice shady spot on up, if I wanted to go to it. We went a little father to that shady spot. Time passed. I kept thinking they would be back down at any point, but they weren't and weren't and weren't. A Filipino couple stopped beside us, she was struggling like I had been (and she was also lots younger and more fit, so I felt better). I told her there was no shame in just staying there. ;) Meanwhile, horse after horse passed us, carrying smarter people on their backs. (You can pay to ride a horse to the top. However, I knew if my sister had any idea that we had ridden an emaciated horse to the top of a volcano, she would never forgive us. So we chose our feet. Clearly a poor choice in regard to MY feet.) Bo then told me if I went just a little bit farther, it would level off and maybe I could just walk a while to meet them. I was feeling much better, so we did. Until I stopped again. After THAT rest, Bo pointed out that actually just around the corner, you could SEE the summit. He wondered if maybe I would want to do that, just to see where they were. I agreed, so we walked to that point. That's where the trek changed. A LOT. What had started as a bit of a hike, then leveled off some, then became a hike again, at this point became a CLIMB. And I was SO HOT AND TIRED. Still dizzy. 

But here's the thing..... when you can SEE the summit..... you don't stop. You don't get to the point where you can SEE the top, SEE people enjoying it, KNOW that the view is just over the crest... and WAIT. You GO. You summon everything in you and you CLIMB. 

And that's what I did. Bo asked me my favorite songs and played Christian music on his phone, singing sweetly. I talked to myself and Jesus in my head the entire way, reminding myself, "With Jesus, I can do hard things" and begging Him to just help me put one foot in front of the other. (I also had a lengthy plea with him for my people not to have come down on another trail because IF I HAD CRAWLED TO THE TOP OF THAT VOLCANO AND THEY HAD BEEN GONE I WOULD STILL BE LAYING THERE. Truth.) I slipped and I sweated and I stumbled and by the time I got to the stairs, I was almost crawling, but I reached the top of that mountain. With Bo by my side and Jesus moving my legs, I made it. And my people were all still there. With cold bottles of water. And joy (and surprise!) in their faces to see me. (My mother-in-law, who is old enough to be my mother, ;) made it relatively easily. I did not. It's ok. I'm good at other things. HAHA!)

And in my life, that moment will be one of the most beautiful for me. Not because it looked anything like it was supposed to, because it did NOT. Not because I accomplished it with anything like grace or beauty, because I did NOT. Not because I ever want to do it again, because I do NOT. ;) 

But because I made it. Because He girded me with strength. Because Bo was the most incredible encourager I can ever imagine. Because my family was waiting for me at the top.

And with great gasps for oxygen, I gave them their bracelets. And soaked in sweat, I took photos with my family. There was no prayer, no speech, just sweaty hugs and sweet relief to be at the top.

***Edited to add that the trip DOWN was probably even worse for me. There was a point almost at the bottom when I had to sit down, family around me, out of water, and came frighteningly close to laying down on the ground, which I imagine would have freaked out my three new children. I stumbled the last few yards to the boat, sat in the floor of the boat with my head laid over on the bench the whole way back across the lake, slept in the van for the ride up, and by the time we got to the restaurant and I went to the bathroom, I had double vision. I truly have no idea what happened to my body that day, but it was more than a little scary and a lot embarrassing.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Part the Sunday School Teacher's Flannel Board Left Out

When the words from the 8th chapter of Genesis appeared on the screen as this morning's sermon context, I felt my brow furrow as I fumbled for my phone and swiped back a chapter. Yep, there it was: "The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days." Last verse of chapter 7. Before my pastor even started his sermon or I knew where he was going with it, I was already thinking to myself what a powerful message it was, the days of the boat just floating on the waters, no rain but also no land in sight. And I was also wondering how I had been a Christian for so long and somehow missed this part of the story.

When I think of Noah and the ark, I think of the days of humiliation and verbal abuse he likely took from those around him (thanks, "Evan Almighty", for making that part of the story vivid). I think of the strange and somewhat misplaced relief he probably felt when it actually DID start to rain, relief that quickly turned to dread and concern for his neighbors and even fear for himself and his family as the storm raged. I think of the forty days and forty nights of rain and thunder and lightning.

And then, I think of the end of the story. I have the same flannel board Sunday School memories of every other churched child of the late 70's and early 80's. He sent out the raven, then the dove, then the dove again and it returned with the olive leaf in its mouth, then the dove again and it didn't come back. And then of course the end of the story, the rainbow and the covenant God made with Noah and His people... but that's always where I have left it.

Today, as our pastor preached a message that made some of these points and a few others, I thought about those days on that ark, waiting on the water to recede. I don't know what it was like for Noah and his family because I didn't know Noah or his family, but I can tell you what it would have been like for me.

The long, hot days of building the ark while being taunted would have been very hard for me. I don't like public humiliation at all, I don't like to be out front, and I would have hated every second of that stage of the process. However, I think I could have kept it together and persevered.

I would have been strongest in the forty days and nights. I am one of those people who does very well in the moment of an emergency situation then falls apart afterward. My adrenaline will carry me very far, even in my fear, and it gives me strength.

Do you know when I would have fallen apart? In the 320 days after the rain stopped (apparently this number is highly debatable, give or take 20ish days, but I'm going with this number). I don't do well at all in the "almost, not yet" stage. In fact, I am basically helpless in that stage. It's not a lack of faith, either. Very seldom do I question God's deliverance. It's 100% a lack of control. Noah worked hard building that ark. I bet the days of the storm were busy ones where he calmed frightened animals, checked for leaks and rationed food and water. I do well when I have lots to occupy myself and can feel like I am making progress on something. It's the days of looking out the window, watching for mountaintops, hoping doves will find a place to roost that get to me. I can't imagine Noah walking the halls of that ark, day after day after day, somewhere around 320 of them, ready to start his life again post-ark and yet unable to do so.

I have a lot of our adoption story left to write and this story of Noah reminds me of the section of time of which I am least proud. In the days between the visa appointment (May 5) and our travel approval (June 6) and departure (June 8), I pretty much felt like I was going completely and totally crazy, and not the kind you laugh and joke about. The REAL kind. I was irritable, I was impetulant, I was illogical, I was insufferable. At the peak of what I call the insane period, I spent several days legitimately feeling like either everyone around me had lost their minds or, more likely, I had. I was angry, too. I felt jealous that that phase was faster and easier for others in the same process, I was mad that the timing had to be so challenging, and I was livid that I didn't understand the details of what was happening (or, in our case at that point, NOT happening). I paced this house like a caged lion, much like I imagine Noah paced the aisles of that ark. I remember one entire day (the girls were gone somewhere, I can't remember where) that I had so much I needed to do to pack for camp and the Philippines, things left to do in their bedrooms, and a house to leave clean, and all I did was sit on my bed and basically sulk.


I JUST. WANTED. THAT ARK TO FIND LAND (or more specifically, I wanted to land in the Philippines).

I lived in this period for one month and one day. Noah lasted a year. But whether it's the dismal failure that I was in that one month and one day or the unwritten description of Noah for that year, the Truth remains the same. God remembered. Genesis 8:1, the Scriptural context of my pastor's sermon today, says, "But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded." As my pastor stated today, God remembers us. And we will see the mountaintops again, no matter where we are.

If you are floating in that boat on the waters, having already weathered the storm and now being held captive in the "almost-not yet", this is the Promise for you, too. God remembers you. And one day, hopefully soon, those mountaintops will surface, that dove will return bearing Hope in its beak, and your feet will find dry ground.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Double Portion

I have had this tab open on my phone for months and months, waiting to be able to write this post.

Deuteronomy 28:12
The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.

{And I have now had this post written for well over a month, waiting to be able to publish it. I wanted to wait because I wasn't sure what sort of internet access our kids had in the Philippines and I wanted to make sure this wasn't a post they would read any time soon. I know there will come a time when they realize the cost of adoption but it's not something I want them to know right now and it's certainly not something I want them to have to think about. I want them to know the miracles of Provision God gave us by way of timing and favor and so many other things, but I don't want them to feel like they "cost something" to us, at least not until they are old enough to see it for what it is.}

God will lavish you with good things: children from your womb, offspring from your animals, and crops from your land, the land that God promised your ancestors that he would give you. God will throw open the doors of his sky vaults and pour rain on your land on schedule and bless the work you take in hand. You will lend to many nations but you yourself won’t have to take out a loan.
(The Message)

When we started to gather information at the beginning of this adoption, we had the option of two different agencies. The one I made initial contact with first was a little bit cheaper than the one we decided to go with.  However, as this process has moved at lightning speed, I am 100% sure that if we had gone with the other agency, we would not be preparing to pick our kids up in the next month. Instead, we would be grieving the fact that our oldest son aged out and trying to figure out what we would do from here.

The initial figure we received was $37,000. That amount, however, was based on one kid instead of three in several categories (airfare, certificate of citizenship, etc). In addition, one figure in that total has tripled (thanks, US Government) since we started the adoption. So, that’s tripled TIMES THREE. Some regulations have changed as well and we are now required to have more post-placement visits, which increases the amount we owe to our home study agency in Tennessee. Additional trainings have been added, most of which cost money. Our airfare was more than anticipated, travel costs were higher than expected, etc, etc.. The total amount for our adoption has ended up being $45,700.

A few things are not included in the total above, but are things that we have worked in our shirt business for, saved, or done a specific fundraiser for.

Not included in that total is the price of airfare for Emma and Kelsey. We desperately wanted to save the money to take them with us to get their brothers and sister, so that was additional money we needed to save and work for through our shirt business.

We love the orphanage that has loved our kids so well and want to be able to do something for them. We inquired about needs and things we could bring and were told that it’s nice to take your whole new family out shopping and buy things there to leave with the orphanage, thus eliminating the need for suitcase space AND allowing your adopted children a chance to feel like they are sowing back into a ministry that has served them well. We are in the middle of a hat fundraiser to raise those funds for that.

Kraig and I wanted to do something special for the staff at the orphanage and also possibly for the other children there.  That cost is not included in the above total either.

One option for adoption assistance is adoption grants. Our issue is that (we thought) ours was going to be so fast that the window to apply for those grants fell the wrong way to apply for most of them. We didn’t have our homestudy completed in time (required) to hit the October deadlines and (we assumed and were wrong) we would be finished before the April deadlines. We did find three grants we could apply for, but we did not receive any of the three. Adoption grants come in various amounts but many of them will provide between $7000 and $10,000. I spent a lot of time terribly stressed out over the fact that we weren’t eligible to apply for the grants that I KNEW we would have a good chance at getting because if there’s one thing I can do, it’s write grants. This is a perfect example of God removing all control from me throughout this process. The FEW things I knew I could handle on my own were all things that He forced me to rely on Him instead.

In November, shortly after the grant deadlines all passed without a completed homestudy (deadlines were October 31, homestudy arrived in our email November 1), we got the information that an anonymous donor (we know the name of the donor but the donor wishes to remain anonymous to others) wanted to give us a substantial amount for our adoption. An amount that, at that time, would have brought us very close to being fully funded after one more big fundraiser (the quarter auction). An amount that was equal to several of the larger grants…. $15,000, an amount that equaled close to HALF of our full total (at that time). I was …. astounded.  Kraig was… elated. God is… a LAVISHING God of good things, to quote The Message translation of that verse. God basically said to me through that donation that He will provide in the least expected ways and the ways that don’t allow me to have control and self-sufficiency. He could have let me write grants, let us get awarded grants, let this donor keep this money, and He still would have been given the glory for the grant awards. But do you know what? I would have, albeit it quietly and in my heart, I would have kept a little of the glory for myself. I would have known that *I* did that, that *I * obviously could handle things at least some of the things, on my own. I wouldn’t have known what it meant to fully and completely depend on Him for the financial provision as much as the other pieces.

One thing that I will admit I have always enjoyed is planning fundraising events. As soon as we decided we were going through with this adoption, I sat down and brainstormed a master list of fundraising events and ideas. We basically did a fundraiser every month for the fall semester. We kicked things off with an envelope donation event, which was very successful. We also made team tees and sold them as an adoption fundraiser in September, did a 5K in October, had a quarter auction in November, sold “Home Sweet Home” shirts in November and December, and then hosted a Cottage Christmas Market in December for the purpose of raising funds for needed household expansion expenses. We realized pretty soon that, with these fundraisers, our significant donation, and generous donors, we would not need to use any other items on our master list of fundraisers (so if anyone needs any suggestions, I have a LOT, haha!). This semester we have done a tshirt fundraiser of an “I Left My Heart in so Many Places” tee designed by our Emma to push us to the end of our adoption bills.

All along the way, we have been BEYOND blessed by people giving so generously to our need. People have participated in our many fundraisers but they have also just given… Just sent cash and coins and checks and paid for specific pieces along the way. Two people very dear to us donated money specifically for Emma and Kelsey’s airfare. One generous person bought the new mattresses we would need. We had several people give significant amounts of money, some of whom knew us and some of whom knew our kids.  Our church has supported us in intentional and generous ways. My mom paid for the plane tickets of our three new kids.

We held a personalized cap fundraiser to raise funds to take with us to the orphanage and to use on the staff gifts we want to take with us. I set up at a booth at a ladies conference to sell Ozark trail mugs, tshirts, and hats.

All of that to say, in 9 months, God provided us with the $45,700 needed for our adoption, the travel costs for Emma and Kelsey, and funds to take generous gifts to the orphanage and staff. When God says He gives lavish gifts, that’s exactly what He does. When we first started this adoption, Kraig was deeply concerned with the financial future of caring for 5 kids and I was overwhelmed with the cost of the adoption itself.  Within a couple of weeks, we traded places and I became daunted by the costs of parenting five kids and he became worried about a $37,500 (which became much more) bill. That is when I knew…. I KNEW… that God was going to make a way. He doesn’t call you to something that He won’t also bring you through, stand beside you, send those to walk with you and hold up your arms. And it is through the experience of Him funding this adoption that has shown both of us that He is also going to take care of our financial future. When we almost double the size of our family, God will double the size of our portion. It’s just who He is.

***Edited at time of publishing, today, June 26, to say that it was perfect timing for me to publish today because I got a rejection letter in the mail today from Show Hope, the Steven Curtis Chapman organization that provides generous grants very freely to adoptive families. I applied at the last minute when our plane ticket costs skyrocketed and hoped that by some miracle, I would get the grant in time to be allowed to accept the money (it must be before travel). Instead, today I got the rejection letter that, even if it had been awarding the money, we couldn't have taken anyway since our kids are already home. However, a letter stating that we had received a grant would have meant that God did not allow us and provide for us to fully fund this adoption without a single grant. So this was yet another piece of this miraculous puzzle of God working everything to the good of these three kids and us in ways that could not be explained by man.

Friday, June 9, 2017

This Amazing Grace

Many people have asked how I am feeling right now. As we prepare to board our final flight to complete our family, I don't feel at all the way I expected to. The days leading up to this moment have found me nervous, excited, and joyful. This may change once we are at the final moment before meeting, but all day today I have felt nothing but the most unearthly calm. If you know me at all, you know that has to have been a Heavenly Calm because I can get anxious faster than the best of them and over NOTHING. ;)

 I am eager and so excited to see their faces in person, hug their necks and hold their hands, hear their voices, but I feel a peace unlike anything else I have experienced. We have known these names and faces for only 308 days today. And it feels like we have been waiting on them forever. But you know? Maybe we have. I know I have been waiting on them for 26 years, since I knew I was going to adopt at 12 years old. I had Emma at 25 and Kelsey at 27, so I guess I waited on them 25 and 27 years. 

I've tried to document everything as we have gone along and a few things I have purposely left unpublished for now, but it feels surreal and somehow simultaneously like the most natural thing in the world to be 3.5 hours away from Manila. I've imagined the coming moments for months and now they are about to be reality. I have tried to keep my expectations open because unrealistic (and unmet) expectations are the key to most disappointment. Emma and Kelsey's births both had elements of unrealistic and unmet expectations (especially Emma's) because I had already mapped out exactly how it would go and both had complications and hiccups and special plans that had to be abandoned in the moment. But both births, the one that ended with a million interventions I didn't want and the one that ended with a baby on the pediatric floor with an IV in her head..... both resulted in the most incredible memories and daughters and family I can imagine.

 I remember on my wedding day, trying to record every moment in my head because I hear so many people say that when they look back later, it was all a blur. I'm trying to go into this fourth huge life event with my hands open instead of holding onto the ways I think things should look and with my mind and heart poised to record all of the special moments that we will want to cherish forever. 

The biggest thing that we want to make clear is that God is so much bigger than every deadline, every piece of paper, every letter of reference, every dollar, every interaction, every governing body meeting, every Skype call, every moment..... I have believed in Him and loved Him as long as I can remember, but I have never had to depend on Him as fully as I have in the past 308 days. I have never had to trust completely in Him with a blind faith like I have these past ten months. 

On the days in the past weeks when I have been overcome with nerves about whether or not I am enough for this future, He sent so many specific words. The two I remember most clearly: 1. John Garrod saying to those who came to camp last Sunday night, "If you're wondering if you're enough, the answer is no. You aren't. HE is enough. And it's only when you come to the end of you that you can fully rest in Him." 2. Lance Colkmire saying on that same night, also in regard to camp but God said it to me in this context through him, "Don't worry about having what it takes. God knows how to love the orphan and He's going to use you to do it." WOW. 
So thank You, God, for all you've done to get us to this point and all You are going to do in the rest of our lives. You are enough.
As we move into these final minutes, this song keeps playing in my head:
"This Is Amazing Grace" by Phil Wickham

[Verse 1:]
Who breaks the power of sin and darkness?
Whose love is mighty and so much stronger?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder
And leaves us breathless in awe and wonder?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place
That You would bear my cross
You laid down Your life
That I would be set free
Oh, Jesus, I sing for
All that You've done for me

[Verse 2:]
Who brings our chaos back into order?
Who makes the orphan a son and daughter?
The King of Glory, the King of Glory

Who rules the nations with truth and justice,
Shines like the sun in all of its brilliance?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings